Third-year Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly led the Illini to the National Semifinal for the first time in 23 years.
Dec. 12, 2011
Illinois Reaches Third-Ever National Semifinal
Illinois has advanced to the National Semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament for the third time in school history and the first time in 23 years. The Illini reached back-to-back Final Fours in 1987 and 1988 under head coach Mike Hebert. In both instances, the Illini lost in the semifinals to Hawaii -- in three sets in 1987 in Indianapolis and in 1988 in four sets in Indianapolis.
Illinois will take a 31-4 record into the semifinal round, marking the first 30-win season since 1992. It is tied for the fifth-most wins in school history behind only 1985 (39), 1977 (38), 1986 (36) and 1992 (32).
Illinois takes on USC (29-4) while Florida St. (28-6) takes on UCLA (28-6) in the other semifinal.
Site and Times: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas. Illinois will play the second match of the session at 8 p.m. Thursday following the UCLA-Florida State match-up, which starts at 6 p.m. The winners will meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for the national title.
TV: All matches will be aired live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com with Beth Mowins and Karch Kiraly on the call.
Radio: Illinois matches will be aired live on the Illini Sports Network and its flagship station WDWS (AM 1400) with Dave Loane and Mike Trame on the call.
Live Stats: Available via gametracker on fightingillini.com by proceeding to the volleyball schedule page or through the interactive bracket at ncaa.com.
Live Audio: Illinois games will be aired on WDWS (AM-1400) with Dave Loane and Mike Trame on the call.
Blog: Mike Koon will be providing a live blog via fightingillini.com throughout the tournament.
Tickets: Fans wishing to sit in the Illinois sections can purchase all-session tickets by calling the Illinois ticket office at 866-Illini-1. Tickets are $52. General public tickets can also be purchased by calling 210-207-3663.
Practice Day Wednesday: All four teams will hold an open practice for fans on Wednesday at the Alamodome. Illinois will practice from 1:20-2:50 p.m.
Illinois Tournament History
Illinois is participating in its 20th NCAA Tournament in its history with this being Illinois' 13 Sweet 16 appearance and third Final Four appearance. This is the fourth straight year that Illinois has been a national seed and the highest for the Illini since seeding began in 1998. The Illini were the No. 9 seed in 2008, the No. 5 seed in 2009 and the No. 8 seed in 2010. Illinois has reached the Sweet 16 in 1985, `86, `87, `88, `89, `92, `95, `98, 2003, `08, `09, `10 and `11.
USC-Illinois Series Notes
Illinois and USC will be meeting for the fifth time. The series is tied at 2-2. The teams are meeting for the second time in the NCAA Tournament. The Women of Troy downed Illinois in straight sets in the 1985 regional semifinal in Kalamazoo, Mich.
USC-Illinois Match-Up Features No. 1 vs. No. 1
The national semifinal between Illinois and USC features the top-ranked team in the final coaches' poll (USC) against the top-ranked team in the final regular season RPI (Illinois).
The only victory over a No. 1 ranked team in Illinois history came against USC in 2004.
Illinois is 1-13 all-time against No. 1 teams.
Illini End NCAA's Longest Win Streak
Before Penn State rattled off 102 straight victories, USC held the NCAA record for the longest winning streak in women's volleyball, winning 52 straight. Coming off an NCAA title in 2003, the Women of Troy came to Champaign to compete in the State Farm Illini Classic. In front over 3,000 fans at Huff Hall, the Illini overcame a 2-1 deficit to down USC 30-24, 24-30, 30-26, 30-28, 13-15 and end the streak. The Illini reached the top 10 for the first time since 1993 after the win.
More on Those Previous Final Four Teams
The team's top player was Mary Eggers, a 5-11 middle blocker that could sky. The News-Gazette's Joe Milas once compared Eggers to Michael Jordan in terms of ability to hang in the air for a long time. Eggers won the Honda Award for the Player of the Year in college volleyball. She is currently the head coach at Elon University.
The team also featured All-Americans Nancy Brookhart and Laura Bush. Eggers and Brookhart were named Big Ten co-Players of the Year in 1987 while Eggers claimed that distinction in 1988.
The Illini played their games in Kenney Gym, which held about 2,000 fans.
Illinois went 17-1 in the Big Ten in 1987 and 18-0 in the conference in 1988.
Illinois-UCLA Series Notes
Illinois is 0-9 all-time vs. UCLA. The teams have not met since 1994, a 3-0 victory for the second-ranked Bruins at the Wahine Invitational.
Illinois-Florida State Notes
Illinois is 1-3 all-time vs. Florida State, the lone victory came in three sets at the 1986 Florida Invitational. The Illini and the Seminoles last met in the 2009 New Mexico State Invitational. Unranked FSU defeated the eighth-ranked Illini in three sets. The Seminoles went to claim the third overall seed in the NCAA Tournament that year.
Ward Has Career Night vs. Former Team
Illinois senior Colleen Ward had a night fittingly of an All-American in the Illini's regional final victory. The Regional Tournament MVP had 23 kills in 42 swings, hitting .500 for the night in helping the Illini hit .338. She hit a combined .900 in the final two sets with 18 kills in 20 swings.
Michelle Bartsch and Jennifer Beltran were also named to the All-Tournament team.
Bartsch had 30 kills and 17 digs for the regional, including 12 kills and nine digs vs. Florida. Beltran tied an Illinois NCAA match record with 26 digs in the semifinal vs. Ohio State Friday and added 13 digs vs. Florida.
Hambly Coaches 100th Match
The match against Florida was the 100th of Kevin Hambly's career. He has an 81-19 mark in those games.
Offense Comes Alive Late in the Year
Since Nov. 11, Illinois is 9-1 and have hit a combined .315. The Illini have hit over .300 against seven of the 10 opponents -- Penn State (.340), Ohio State (.390), Michigan (.361), Iowa (.407), Central Michigan (.360), Marquette (.311) and Florida (.338).
In the final three sets vs. Florida, the Illini, hit an incredible .455, .394 and .514, respectively, in overpowering the Gators at the net.
In the first four games of the tourney...
Colleen Ward has 57 kills (4.07 per set) and 27 digs while hitting .319.
Michelle Bartsch has 50 kills while hitting .273.
The Illini have out-blocked their opponents 39.5-18.
Illinois is averaging just 3.5 hitting errors per set and has only been aced 11 times.
Illinois Plays Competitive Schedule
Illinois played 21 matches against 14 teams who advanced to the tournament, including a tournament-leading eight from the Big Ten. The Big 12 and the Pac-12 each advanced seven teams to the post-season. Of those eight Big Ten teams, five received national seeds, including three in the top five - No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Illinois, No. 5 Purdue, No. 8 Penn State and No. 13 Minnesota. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State also received at-large bids. The other Illinois opponents who made the field were Dayton, Louisville, Cincinnati, Middle Tennessee, Tennessee, and Tulsa.
Ranked Foes All Over the Schedule
Illinois is 10-3 against ranked opponents so far this year. The Illini had a nine-week stretch in which the Orange and Blue played at least one ranked opponent each week.
Illini No. 7 in Coaches Poll
Illinois checked in at No. 7 in the final regular season AVCA Coaches poll for the third week in a row. The Illini have spent the entire season inside the top eight, including four weeks at No. 1 -- Sept. 26-Oct. 17.
USC remained atop the poll after becoming the sixth different team to be ranked No. 1 this year. Illinois has been at the top spot for the most weeks. The Women of Troy, Penn State, California, Illinois, Nebraska and UCLA have all spent time in the top spot.
The Big Ten still boasted six teams inside the top 25, including four of the top nine -- No. 2 Nebraska, No. 7 Illinois, No. 8 Purdue, No. 9 Penn State, No. 19 Minnesota and No. 22 Michigan. Non-conference foe Tennessee is No. 15 with Ohio State, Dayton, Michigan State, Tulsa, and Cincinnati receiving votes.
Beltran Surpasses 1,000 Digs Mark
Jennifer Beltran became just the 10th Illinois player to tally 1,000 career digs. She set the single-season record with 623 last year and now has 1,136 for her career.
The 35 digs by Beltran at Purdue ranks as the most by a Big Ten player in a single match this season and tied the fourth-most digs by an Illinois player in school history. The feat came in only four sets, making it the most in program history by an Illini in a four-set match.
Bartsch Moving Up Career Charts
Michelle Bartsch is seventh on Illinois' all-time kills list with 1,600. Bartsch is also second in career attack attempts with 4,654.
Dorn, Johnson Moving Up Single-Season Blocks List
Anna Dorn (170) is now fifth on Illinois' single-season blocks list while Dorn (165) and Johnson (141) are fourth and sixth, respectively, on the Illini's single-season block assists list.
A complete version of match notes can be found in the PDF at the top of the page